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Social Networks Drain Productivity

In March of this year, social email provider (pronounced 'harmony') commissioned a survey of 515 IT users working the U.S. and global companies.  The purpose of the survey was to better understand the impact that electronic distractions have on the workplace and the findings were incredible, yet somewhat not unexpected.


57% of work interruptions involve either the use of social tools like email, social networks, and text messaging, or switching windows among disparate standalone tools and applications, as well as personal online activities such as Facebook and Internet searches.  The remaining 43% of workplace distractions comes from activities like phone calls, talking with co-workers and ad hoc meetings.

45% of the survey's respondents keep at least six items open simultaneously and 65% report using one to three desktop or mobile devices in addition to their main computer.  These numbers were broken down by age in the survey and are probably what you expected:

  • 54% of 20-29 year-olds keep 6+ items open at the same time, while 46% keep 1-5 items open,
  • 53% of 30-39 year-olds keep 6+ items open at the same time, while 47% keep 1-5 items open,
  • 38% of 40-49 year-olds keep 6+ items open at the same time, while 62% keep 1-5 items open, and
  • 28% of 50+ year-olds keep 6+ items open at the same time, while 72% keep 1-5 items open. 


45% of employees surveyed reported they work only 15 minutes or less without getting interrupted and 53% waste at least one hour each day due to all types of distractions.  That hour per day translates into $10,375 of wasted productivity per person, per year, assuming an average salary of $30/hour.  Doing the math we learn for businesses with 1,000 employees, the cost of employee interruptions exceeds $10 million per year. The actual cost of distraction is even higher in terms of negative impacts on work output, work quality and relationships with clients and co-workers.


The survey found the increasingly common addiction to web-based activity - which psychologists call "online compulsive disorder" - is pervasive in the workplace.  2 out of 3 people tune out of face-to-face meetings to communicate digitally with someone else.  The addiction is also taking over the personal lives of survey takers.  The majority of people surveyed under the age of 40 stay digitally connected in bed and 44% of people under 30 stay connected during a night out at the movies.


Users and the companies they work for recognize the productivity challenges created by technology and have implemented a variety of tools and strategies to limit digital-related disruptions.  68% reported their companies enforce policies and/or technologies to minimize distractions at work.  Employees report employers block access to public social media, track usage patterns, provide training, provide enterprise collaboration windows, institute No Facebook Fridays, and have instituted No Email Fridays.

What do you think about these strategies?  What strategies do you personally employ to minimize distractions at your place of business?  Does any of this research surprise you?

Join The Conversation

  • BradFriedman's picture
    Jun 7 Posted 6 years ago BradFriedman

    Pam, you make some excellent points.  I particularly agree with your point about creating some sort of balance in the lives of an employee.  I'm wondering how you feel about social media policies that acknoeledge the use of social media and outline appropriate responses, and activities while at work and away.

  • PamMoore's picture
    Jun 7 Posted 6 years ago PamMoore

    I spent 15+ years working in corporate tech for Fortune 500 companies & startups.

    I have to admit your post reminds me of the exact reasons I left. I am shocked there are biz's instituting "Facebook Free Fridays"? Are they nuts? Yet, at the same time they are asking IT staff to keep the smart phone in hand 24/7 and be availalbe for 2 am conference calls w/Japan.

    I lived this life for too many years and found there wasn't a fair give and take in my final years of being a corporate cog in the wheel. I can remember one of the last big companies I worked for literally buying me an extra laptop battery so I could work the entire 12 hour travel day to California I had to take on at bi-weekly at minimum. I was also asked to logon during layovers, when landing in my home town airport after 12 hours of travel (and work) to send a document or whatever work it was I completed during the last leg on a Friday night. They literally had no respect for my time or me as a human being. It was par for the course if you wanted to keep your job. 

    I think organizations need to adapt to the new media. They need to figure out how to leverage social media, leverage the "always on" lifestyle to offer life balance to employees. The focus shouldn't just be on how can I get my employee to work more. Instead it should be on how can I best ensure my employees have a balanced work life balance. How can I adapt my organziation and our culture to the outside culture? To the real world? 

    I once worked for a past COO of 3m who always told me he'd rather have me 100% on for 6 hours of the day than 18 non-stop and tired! I wish more corporate leaders would practice such respect for employees as people. 

    Good post. I know you are just the messenger, not the maker of the rules ;) 



  • Jun 7 Posted 6 years ago AxiomSEO (not verified)

    Simple - block it! Many employers block access to all of the social media sites. I was recently doing a project for a large biz. We posted numerous videos to YouTube and the media department sent out an in-office email to all employees. Nobody could watch it from work! :)

  • TLavonLawrence's picture
    Jun 4 Posted 6 years ago TLavonLawrence

    Yoda.  Efficiency Consultant. 


    I crack me up.

  • Jun 4 Posted 6 years ago T. Lavon Lawrence (not verified)

    "Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph."---Yoda, Efficiency Consultant.  Fact is a distractible mind will find an avenue to wander off onto whether it be social networks online or offline at work, or whether it be some mindless game or daydreaming.  A recent Harvard University study of 2250 people found the average person to be distractible 46.9% of the time even during time blocks when attention-demanding tasks are ongoing.  It's entirely normal for the human mind to NOT want to settle into one task for lengthy periods of time, while extended periods of attention control and mental concentration (even in defiance of temptations such as online social networking, gaming, etc.) often require training and practice.  In the workplace, you'll find many people defending the 'necessity' for their distraction, but a few who understand the detriment to their productivity, promotability, and pocketbook.  For those whose thoughts and compelling impulses have them chained to social media and other distraction in place of extraordinary performance, ask yourself how much more you'd be able to achieve and attain - how your life might be a bit better (or even DIFFERENT) if you could pull away from the distraction habit and adopt mental concentration and mental focus as an solid skill.  For those who have excuses that pass for reasons, good luck with all that.  Make sure to send a "like" to that other person in the office who knows how to focus and is passing you by.

  • Jun 3 Posted 6 years ago Hank Osborne (not verified)

    Brad, you might want to check that math.

    "That hour per day translates into $10,375 of wasted productivity per person, per year, assuming an average salary of $30/hour."

    At $10,375 / $30 per hour = 345.8 work days.  I don't know anyone who makes $30 per hour an works 345 days per year.

    The average person gets two weeks off for vacation and 10 holidays per year. So that is 48 weeks times 5 work days per week = 240 work days per year.  That would be closer to a cost of $7,200 per employee per year.

  • Jun 3 Posted 6 years ago ik (not verified)

    There is a huge problem with the concepts of productivity and distraction. Can a person be truly productive 8 hours straight with a few very limited breaks? Was quality of work really conceptualized and measured here in relation to distractions?

    It seems that this study is based on the Fordist approach to management, when people are seen as part of the assembly line. But jobs that are centered around task completion shouldn't focus on clocking time that much, but rather on whether people do their job well (which cannot be effectively measured by time spent on the task). Then all this "social networks distraction" is not that much of a problem.

  • Jun 2 Posted 6 years ago Beth Kanter (not verified)

    The problem is relearning solitude in an age of distraciton and being able to shift between the two. 

  • Jun 2 Posted 6 years ago Carol Hagen (not verified)

    If employees were willing to only check their email for 15 minutes 2-3 times a day their productivity would go up dramatically.  This is also true of social networks (at once per day while at work) . mostly LinkedIn for B2B unless they are in business development, community outreach or HR.  The problem isn't that employees use electronic communications, it's that they can't seem to disconnect for blocks of time to give them time to focus. 

    It would also pay big dividends to productivity if companies provided training on how to efectively manage email.

  • Jun 2 Posted 6 years ago David Mayne (not verified)

    The study shows the magnitude of a poorly trained corporate world.  Productivity is a managment issue. 

    At the Intermedia institute we teach business people how to embrace social media just like their business email.  What the study doesn't show is that companies that have a social media culture are more responsive to customers, improve the experience with sales prospects and create a team of company ambassadors that promote and also have been trained to respond to any negitive comments in the electronic world. 

    But if you feel that you have issues with personal use, then we suggest that you create and enforce a use policy and put 1-3 computers in the breakroom area and have them access their personal networks there.   This clearly separates business and personal time. 

    David Mayne
    CEO & Chief Strategist
    Intermedia Institute

  • Jun 2 Posted 6 years ago CHRISTY H (not verified)

    I think it would be interested to see stastics of people happy in their jobs vs. not and the use of social media during work hours. i.e. If they are unhappy with their pay, benefits, and the actual work they perform is there a difference in use of social media during work hours vs people who are happy, content with benefit, pay etc.

    I think most poeple who get "distracted" by social media, online games, etc. either don't have enough work to do, aren't being challenged in their jobs or feel they deserve to because they feel they aren't being compensated appropraiately for the work they currently do. Personally, I think rather than restricting access companies should look within themselves to see why employees feel the need to find an outlet to distract them from their work.

    I also think it's funny that companies say they want to be "social" and get into "social media" then restrict access to social media for their employees. To me it's like saying they want to be be #1 in sales against their competitors then tell their sales staff they're not allowed to use the phone to make sales calls! 

    Another thought, is that techincally employees who work an 8hr day get two fifteen minute breaks and an hour lunch--For myself and a few of my co-workers we don't take these on a regular basis, so if they want to take some time during the day to check out Facebook or Twitter page I don't see the harm (hey they're going to check it wether it's on their computer or smart phone)...So, they can block it on the computer but most people can type faster on the computer vs. smart phone so by not limiting access on the work computer will actually get most people back to work faster! Food for thought anyway. 

  • Jun 2 Posted 6 years ago Steve S. (not verified)

    The flip side is that with the ubiquity of mobile devices, more and more companies are expecting employees to be always on. E-mails come in at any time, day or night. Some companies subsidize the data plan, others don't, but still want to see turnaround on after hours emails.

    How much unpaid personal time are employees spending doing work-related tasks when they should be relaxing with family or friends? The lines have been blurred on both sides of the clock.

  • Jun 2 Posted 6 years ago Jan M. (not verified)

    Shouldn't it really come down to measuring output and task completion than the micro management style of supervisors dictating time allotments for each activity. This type of management style will not contribute to retention of new hires these days that are very plugged in to tech. Besides, getting employees engaged with customers through social media networks including twitter and blogging is really transforming customer relations and satisfaction.

  • Jun 2 Posted 6 years ago Nicole Ott (not verified)

    I agree with most of what everyone has already said - especially that workers who are 'tending their personal farms' on facebook should not be happening at work in the first place.  Personally, I think we have a different issue with people who are disengaged from the work itself (obviously they are not interested in their job or have some sort of disconnect from a solid work ethic).  However, for those of us who are project based workers, it is important to be able to multi-task, whether that costs extra time or not, you often have to be flexible and jump to the project that is 'on fire' at the moment it is needed.  

    I have also noticed I can get very OCD about the internet and watching for updates on my social networks - I think once the 'newness' subsides it will become less compulsive and more scheduled / planned - at least I hope so! :)

    Thank you for the stats - very interesting in any case.

  • ginnybayes's picture
    Jun 2 Posted 6 years ago ginnybayes

    I remember the days when the PC games people secretly played at work had a "boss" button to change the screen to look like a bar graph when your employer walked by.  Solitaire and Freecell were bad enough, but with the global reach of the Internet and social media, distractions in the workplace are epidemic.  

    To deal with social media at our company, we limit engagement to precise times and not more than one hour total a day. If you use apps that help you make your social media time productive, an hour is more than enough time to interact with followers, research new likes and follows, and keep your information relevant each day.


  • Jun 1 Posted 6 years ago Atle Iversen (not verified) My strategy is to divide the day into blocks; - 1 hour online - email (facebook, twitter, blogs etc) - WORK - 1 hour online - email (facebook, twitter, blogs etc) The WORK block is then further divided into 30-60 minute blocks (but this depends on the nature of your work). Distractions are killer for productivity, and you very seldom need to respond *immediately*, so turn off those distractions !
  • taoiseach's picture
    Jun 1 Posted 6 years ago taoiseach

    The statistics are not surprising, although some verge on the pathetic: why, if you are not an emergency room physician or the like would you want to distract yourself from a movie you just paid a handsome price to see? 

    The distinction between distractions and job related enhancements is not clear cut. There is a considerable difference between information mining at professional  sites and cultivating your online farm patch. Rather sad and telling that employers find it necessary to monitor usage and block sites.

    Personally, I try to set my e-mail for 45 minute updates, and block out time to conduct several internet searches in sequence. Most of the time it works, but it is not a panacea!


  • Jun 1 Posted 6 years ago George Cathcart (not verified)

    Fair enough, I can see how that would be the case.

    Problem is when your job is centred around using social networks. Are the distractions distractions? Or just learning and building up a knowledge base of the social web. A fine line, perhaps.

  • May 31 Posted 6 years ago Alex Chang (not verified)

    Brad - great post.  I'd love to show you if you're available for a demo.  We really built it with this issue in mind.  How do we help really busy Professionals (Realtors, CPAs, Attorneys) and Small Business Owners...all of whom have multiple day jobs...leverage Social Marketing and still be time efficient.

  • EricHerberholz's picture
    May 31 Posted 6 years ago EricHerberholz

    Yes, having so many means of communicating can be stressful. Personally, I am working towards means of having a unified communication methodology. Somehow there has to be a solution. I know of IBM offering a solution, and will be keeping my eyes and ears out for more solutions. Got any?

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